NZ Post moves to recognise Māori macrons and new words

By Tamara Poi-Ngawhika

New Zealand Post has moved quickly to fix an IT problem that failed to recognise Māori macrons in names and place names.

Māori business owner Kirsty Bedi highlighted the issue after NZ Post's system failure to recognise some Māori words that include tohutō (macrons).

Bedi, (Ngai Tahu, Kāti Mamoe, Pākehā) said the NZ Post system was "not good enough". In her line of work she needed the correct addresses and place names, to send her taonga to her customers.

"We depend on the NZ Post online platform to send our parcels and so it flies in the face of our kaupapa, our mission, and our belief that our language and culture is precious and must be normalised.

"Customers are directly impacted by the failure of the system to recognise macrons and receive misaddressed parcels if their name happens to include a macron.

"It's not really good enough."

"During Te Wiki o te Reo Māori we wrote a letter to NZ Post to request that they prioritise the integration of tohutō into their online shipping system," said Bedi.

Bedi said that when their names are incorrectly spelled due to this system, she has to remediate manually.

"A place name spelled correctly with macrons simply does not register and it becomes an 'invalid' address, so we end up writing names by hand and crossing out the errors where we catch them.

"When you start processing orders on any scale, this becomes a time-consuming and frustrating problem."

Bedi said whakapapa and language are important for Māori and Aotearoa.

"As an official language of New Zealand, we should not have to bend over backwards to have our language recognised."

NZ Post chief customer officer Bryan Dobson said that they understand that tohutō in te reo Māori are an essential element of the Māori alphabet and were trying to make their system compatible.

"NZ Post's eShip system currently uses Standard ASCII Character Encoding.

"Unfortunately, this software does not currently enable tohutō/macrons to be printed onto shipping labels and we acknowledge that these systems are not where we want them to be.

"We are actively investigating solutions for this issue, including working to make iterative improvements for the use of tohutō/macrons in our technology platforms as we can."

After kōrero with the Herald, NZ Post has come to the party to ensure it works through its technology systems and ensure it upholds the mana of te reo Māori.

"The NZ Post technology team and our partners have been working hard behind the scenes on a fix and are pleased to report that we have made a change to allow names and addresses from eShip to correctly show macrons."

The Herald spoke to Nigel Parker, customer success leader at Microsoft New Zealand, about the programming system that NZ Post uses. Parker explained that the ASCII code was created in 1961 and has its limitations.

"ASCII was an encoding standard that was created for electronic typewriters and has limited capability at 128 characters."

Parker said that an alternative system is Unicode and the number of characters available for Unicode is about 149,000.

"When typewriters or computers first came out, they had very little memory and very little space to keep information. Therefore, they were limited to the number of characters that could be used on the system.

"So the most popular 128 characters were chosen, which included things like the pound sign, or the dollar sign and all the standard English characters.

"Some systems have been built so long ago and Unicode was designed and implemented to make the problems of ASCII go away."

Public Interest Journalism, funded through NZ On Air